Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, March 2, 2014: I will never forget you...

Where do we place our trust? 

Our readings this Sunday pose that very question in a variety of ways.  In Isaiah, the Israelites (a.k.a. Zion) are feeling abandonned, forgotten by God:  The Lord has forsaken me; the Lord has forgotten me.  We feel the pain of this sharp cry of lament, which cuts us to the quick.  The word forsaken, for example, conveys a sense of complete denial of relationship, while forgotten suggests being cast out from the very mind of God.  But has God really forgotten Zion?  Or have the Israelites rather turned away from God, failing to ground themselves in God’s love?  Yet even if the latter is so, God’s response is immediate, maternal, and reassuring:  I will never forget you.  God’s loving-kindness, or hesed, is infinite, and puts the people of Israel back on a path to healing… if only they, like the psalmist, can trust in the Lord:  Only in God is my soul at rest… Trust in him at all times, o my people! (Psalm 61)

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus similarly encourages us to put our trust in God first and foremost, seeking the kingdom of God with the reassurance that, should we truly make God our priority, everything else will fall into place.  We can plan for the future, but we need to remember not to ground ourselves in our own control, but rather in God.  If we but remember his promise — I will never forget you love, safety, and security will follow:  Your heavenly father knows that you need them all.  So live in that love, trust in that love, make it the motive of your heart, as Paul tells the Corinthians, and you will feel affirmed in God’s presence and in God’s activity in your lives.  Only know, believe, that he will never forget you… 

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lenten Reflections from Fr. Robert Barron

If you saw the series Catholicism or have read the book, you know the work of Fr. Robert Barron and Word on Fire.  Now, Lent is almost upon us -- it's only one week away, in fact!  If you're looking to up your spiritual reflections during this time, you can sign up to receive Fr. Barron's daily Lenten reflections for free by visiting:  

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Pure Glory of God in Us

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.  This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us… It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven.  It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely… I have no program for this seeing.  It is only given.  But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

--Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Image source:  Maurice Denis, "April," Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, Netherlands

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, February 23, 2014: Be holy...

Here we go again:  what does it mean to be holy?

In the Old Testament, an individual followed the Law, or Torah, because being obedient helped her to develop an attitude that brought her back into the presence of God.  In our reading this Sunday from the Book of Leviticus, the Holiness Code that the Lord gives Moses explains how the people are to act in relationship to one another so that they might be as like God as they can, by acting out of love:  You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart, God says, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  And if we should stray from holiness, Psalm 103 reminds us that we can rely on God’s compassion to heal us, to make us whole, to make us holy:  Merciful and gracious is the Lord…

Jesus, of course, takes this all a step or two further than Leviticus.  In our reading from Matthew, Jesus says no less than love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  Whoa, what?  Even when slapped, we are to turn the other cheek.  Why?  Well, think about it like this:  you are to try to draw the offender into your holiness, into God’s presence (in you), so that you can overwhelm that enemy with holiness.  This means entering into the depth of God’s love for all, good and bad alike.  Because when all is said and done, we can allow no division between ourselves and God’s creation; we need to seek perfection on God’s terms.  Paul tells the Corinthians that the temple of God, which you are, is holy.  Holiness is no less than God revealed in us.  And to get there, we need to reach for the greatest there is, even if we can’t quite attain it.  For everything belongs to you… and you to Christ, and Christ to God.  If we are Christ’s Body on earth, then doesn’t it behoove us to do our very best to be holy?

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
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Monday, February 17, 2014

10 Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus

This past Sunday's readings reminded us of the significance of the Law to the Jewish people, and the limitations of that Law with respect to the new order Jesus came to institute on earth.  Jesus's law is a law of love, a law that honors relationship first and foremost, a law that goes deeply inside of us, requiring us to consider others in every single thing we do.  Or don't do, as the case may be.

Reflecting on Jesus's new order, Presbyterian minister Mark Sandlin has proposed a list of the "10 Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus" -- not a complete list, but (as the song goes), a very good place to start.  To consider his list in "The God Article" and see if it corresponds to your own, click here.  We'd love to hear your comments.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sunday Gospel Reflection, February 16, 2014: Give me discernment...

What does God’s order look like?

For the people of Israel, the answer to this question lay in the Law, which the Book of Sirach invokes in this Sunday’s readings as the primary source of order for those who opt for it:  If you choose, you can keep the commandments; they will save you.  As Wisdom literature, Sirach is full of instructions on proper behavior, directing readers away from chaos (which is frequently the choice of human beings, thanks to free will) and toward a world in which love rules.  Participating in the order set out by the commandments was perceived as aligning oneself with God; obedience leads to right relationship.  These sentiments are echoed in Psalm 119, which focuses on the human capacity to learn God’s ways, to walk with the Lord:  Open my eyes, that I might consider the wonders of your law, the psalmist asks.  In other words, help me to be internally disposed, bearing the power of discernment, so as to be open to God, because it is in God that I will find life.

From a Christian perspective, the coming of Jesus represents a new kind of order, one still focused on relationship, but based first and foremost in love.  In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus invokes a variety of Jewish laws (about murder, adultery, and false oaths, in this week’s reading), deepening the implication of Jewish law from the literal – the letter of the law – to an internal and more profound understanding.  For example, it’s not enough, Jesus says, not to murder; we need to protect our relationships with one another through compassion and kindness, building each other up, treating each other with reverence.   In each case, constant attention to relationship is in order, particularly as concerns our internal disposition to that relationship. If we embrace one another in love, with our whole beings, we can’t help but maintain God’s order, for God’s order is love. This is the new wisdom of this age of which Paul writes to the Corinthians, a wisdom that applies not to a select few (like the Corinthians, who wanted to feel “special”), but to all:  God has revealed the full force of his love, sending first his Son to die and rise, and then the Spirit to dwell in and with us, Love, in its most perfect form, known imperfectly by us, yet still, the principal source of God’s order in today’s world.

What does God’s order look like?  Seek to live your life immersed in God’s Love, serving as a conduit of that Love to others, and you will find the answer.

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
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Tuesday, February 11, 2014


I have this app – maybe you’ve heard of it:  MyFitnessPal.  It’s amazing:  it counts my calories, logs my exercise (and thus calories burned), calculates recipe data, charts the weight I lose (or gain) over 30, 60 or 90 days… It even gives me helpful encouragement, as in, "You burned 322 calories on your elliptical trainer today."  I love it.

Maybe what I really need, though, is MySpiritualFitnessApp – doesn’t that sound useful?  Something to make me accountable for my effort in maintaining the Relationship. You know the one.  MySpiritualFitnessPal could chart things like:

 -- how many times I went to Mass this week;
 -- how much time I spent reading Scripture;
 -- how much time I spent pouring my heart out to God (with a built-in timer, ready, set, go, to clock me?);
 -- the number of minutes I spent sitting waiting for God to talk to me (ready, set, go, way harder -- maybe I also need a built-in white noise app to shut out the outside world while I wait, as always, eyes closed and something less than patient?);
 -- the number of minutes God actually did talk to me (ready, set, go, third time’s a charm);
 -- the number of times I remembered to say grace in a given day;
 -- the number of times God surprised me during the day;
 -- how much time (and money) I gave to charitable causes;
 -- whether I did my evening examen (check one:  yes, no, or I tried, really, I tried);
 -- how many decades of the rosary I managed to say before falling asleep…

Plus, it could have direct e-connections to my prayer partners, with a special speed dial to my spiritual director and another to my pastor's office.  And a link to the Vatican website, plus USCCB and America Magazine, PopeAlert, and (just for fun) a special box that lights up whenever Fr. Jim Martin is on The Colbert Report.

And I’m sure I’m forgetting things.  But then again, as important as all of these are, and they are, are any or all of them a true measure of my spiritual fitness?  What is spiritual fitness, anyway?  Am I on the wrong track here?  Should I be striving to be accountable in all these ways or not?  For all that this sounds like a playful musing, I am serious and truly do feel the need to pay attention my efforts, and wish I could gauge my progress somehow... 

On the other hand, maybe that app I need is one that’s built right in, a ‘program’ my own body uploads to daily, whether I know it or not.  Maybe the ‘app’ I need is simply my own open heart?   But I’m not sure how to measure an open heart -- it's not exactly a quantifiable entity.  Plus, unlike physical fitness, where we (most of us) are striving to lose weight, spiritual fitness is all about gain, and the more, the better – gaining compassion and kindness and mercy, gaining blessings so that we can, in turn, share them, be blessings.  Maybe we can only ‘measure’ our own spiritual fitness in terms of Other, in the love we give and the lives we touch.  It's all so intangible, though.  No numbers, no calculations.  I don’t think my iPad is up for the challenge, but maybe -- maybe? -- my heart is.  I hope it's enough.

Do you have/need a "spiritual fitness pal"?  Or suggestions for one who is searching?  I'd love to hear from you.

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